Book: Hold Me Like a Breath
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Penelope Landlow is a Mafia princess, the daughter of one of the most successful organ traffickers in the country. But she's shielded from the business because of her illness, an autoimmune disorder that means she bruises at the barest touch. Wrapped up in cotton wool and sheltered from the world, she chafes at her restrictions and dreams of escaping to New York City and being allowed to love Garrett Ward, her brother Carter's bodyguard.
When Carter is murdered, apparently by the rival Zhu family, Penelope's world is rocked to its foundations. But when her parents are slaughtered, just as she's planning to run away with
Garrett, that world is shattered beyond hope of repair. Spirited away to New York City, without Garrett, she finds only loneliness in the city she's longed for.
Then she meets Char. Still in hiding, she gives him a fake name and discovers unexpected freedom in the role of Maeve. Maeve isn't sick. Maeve has never so much as heard of organized crime. Maeve is free to create her own life. But Penelope Landlow's dangerous life is waiting to suck her back in.
This book took a long time to get started. Schmidt spends a considerable number of pages on setting up Penelope's pampered, confining life and her longings for something more. I almost put it down, but things picked up around the 1/3rd mark and after that I was glued to the pages - especially once I figured out that the rather dull Garrett wasn't actually the love interest.
In fact, I was heartened to realize that while Penelope falls in love with somebody else, Char is a secondary character at best. This is Penelope's story, through and through - how she moves from being an overprotected, fearful, and naive girl to a young woman willing to take risks for herself and the people she loves.
My favorite part? Penelope doesn't get magically cured of her autoimmune disorder. Instead, she learns how to manage it, how to live with it instead of allowing it to define her. A harrowing sequence late in the novel leaves her black and blue from head to foot, quite literally, but you can tell it's all worth it.
Drawing on both The Princess and the Pea and Rapunzel, this is a fairy tale retelling with a hefty dose of suspense, betrayal, and inner strength. This is apparently the first in a series, and while I don't know where it will go from here, I'm willing to find out.